Monday, May 23, 2011

The Red Light Man

Sitting in that auto with my mother and sister on either side of me, I spotted him today, the red light man. He was holding this wooden board with those obnoxious little wobbly flowers that everyone seems to love to perch on their dashboards nowadays. And then he passed out of my line of vision.

I had just found my portkey to time travel. I flew back to a time some twelve years ago, when school was about silly games like ‘lock- and-key’ and ‘ghost-in-the-graveyard’, and children running out of grey metal gates towards the waiting cool of an air conditioned car. I plonked myself in the front seat and turned on the radio, 102.6 FM, the only one we had back then. At the Ashram red light, my face lit up as I saw the nice, knobbly old man selling magazines. Like always, he came right up to our window and made faces at me. I laughed, rolled down my window and shook his hand, and told him that I was going home from school. Then the lights changed and I waved my byes to him.

Dissolve. That memory and the picture dissolved.

Cut to seven years later. For whatever reasons, time, etc, I hadn’t seen the red light man in many years. A little part of me, at the odd time, fearing the worst, prayed for him, and with all my heart I wished him luck and happiness. Then one day, at the Ashram red light again, I saw him. My heart jumped, an initial yelp of joy. But by then, my mind had undergone a certain mental conditioning, as the initial yelp was muffled under observation, apprehension and hesitation.
How old he had grown, his jaw stuck out, the teeth were missing. My heart went out to him. He was selling water bottles, from car to car, in the blistering heat. I half wanted him to come to my window and half not, not knowing how I would react. It had been so long, I felt a sense of having betrayed him (and my childish innocence) and moved on.

He stopped at my window.
I looked at him, with a deadpan expression, trying to silence the little girl who wanted to scream, “it’s me! From back then! Do you remember?”
Our eyes met over my clenched jaw, he held my gaze for a fleeting moment and I thought I saw a flicker of recognition. My lips almost turned upward and I was on the verge of flashing him a beaming smile, when he turned away.

He turned and went to the next car. My heart sank.

Why in that fleeting moment, did I feel that he waited for me to meet him halfway? Why was I so reserved? Because he was a man at a red light and I was a young girl in a car? I felt a deep sense of shame, an innate repulsion for myself.

Today, I sat in the auto, and saw him again... feeble and bent with age, yet resilient, selling his wares from car to car, a life force that refused to give up. And I felt nothing except respect for this man. No desire to try to appeal to his memory, nothing. I asked my sister if she remembered him, (I don’t even know his name); she said she was surprised because she was thinking about him too.

Perhaps he was like this with all the children he met at red lights. Perhaps they’d openly recognize him till date. Not like me.

Would he remember me? Perhaps not. And why should he? I was nothing and am nothing special.

But I will remember him. Him in the sponsored T-shirt of whichever company was paying him. He who embraced the harshness of life and entertained little children.

That knobbly faced smile that knew no boundaries.

The Red Light Man who made faces at an uncorrupted me.


  1. Wow. Just wow. Not at the writing, at the expression and the thought. Super, girl.
    -Dalip Grewal

  2. Haha, T!
    That's just the way the cookie crumbles...

  3. Instead of saying hello, buy whatever he's selling.


  4. - I don't know TS... I can't say hello to him anymore, as it is... actually maybe I WILL buy something

  5. You should. And if I see someone who fits your description, maybe I will too.

  6. Hehe,your two pennies of kindness, an act spurred by a few words I scribbled... I feel like a powerful medium. Humbled, all the same,

  7. great expressions, details
    the real life.

  8. Ms. Flat Out, I maintain a little list of my favorite blogs on my blog. Can't do without putting there.
    Fan, bhayi :D

    1. Honoured, Sarthak :)
      I feel like scribbling a little more and then some. But hardly get the time.

      Killer work schedule, crappy deadlines, the works.

      But thanks for the encouragement! Always great to know there's someone out there actually reading this stuff :)

      Hope to find something intellectually stimulating/emotionally disturbing enough write about, soon!

    2. I know what you mean. I have made a strict 2 posts a month rule for my blog, just to keep it going.
      And, you're still an experienced blogger. I'm about to complete a year of blogging in 3 days. Woot! :D